|Author: Pavel Cernoch|
EUROPE & RUSSIA - A DIFFICULT RELATIONSHIP
Size does matter. And Russia is big. Certainly much too big to become just another member state of the European Union in the distant future. After all, from their own point of view, not so long ago, Russians had a Union of their own. It was partly in Europe and was called "Soviet Union". Interestingly, in Russian the EU is called by no coincidence "Evropeyskii soyuz". No wonder that today many Russians watch the process of European integration with interest and compare it with their own union-building experience. By the way, the Americans, another big world actor, compare their union, the USA, with the emerging concept of the United States of Europe.
But is the European Union a new "Soyuz", only located further west on the edges of the Eurasian landmass? Many Russian commentators compare the upcoming enlargement of the EU to 25 members as a step towards becoming a new superpower. In simplistic terms, they argue, that both great unions, the Soviet and the American, were superpowers and thus it would be logical that once Europe becomes a Union, it would become a superpower as well. This seemingly logical reasoning might well resonate with the union-building experiences in the lands of the Volga and the Mississippi, but it remains questionable whether it can equally applied to the lands around the Danube and the Rhine.
Contrary to the common understanding of power politics, the building the European union as a community of democratic states has no precedent in history. To some, it is an experiment with an uncertain outcome, to others it is a slow, but determined way towards European unity, based on small steps of concrete achievements. In any case it seems to be not only a success story, but a highly attractive community offering political and economic stability to its members. Moreover, operating as a member state has not only been beneficial to the large states such as France, Germany or Britain, but has offered a new political dimension to smaller member states such as Netherlands, Denmark or Finland who became important actors on a European level.
Last but not least, the European union has brought to its member states lasting peace, mutual understanding and new ways of cooperation based on partnership and a clear legal basis. This is new in Europe and holds an important message for Russia: You cannot deal with the European Union as if it would be just another superpower. And there is no headmaster who would run this Union as a supreme boss, either. Reflecting on the Soviet experiences with union-building, this might be difficult to understand, is nevertheless essential, if a partnership between the EU and Russia is supposed to work.
An interesting test case for the Russian ability to understand the character of the EU will be the settlement of the Kaliningrad transit issue. Russian negotiators have already met resistance from the EU to their rather superpower-like demands for a corridor across Lithuania, a future EU member state. When it comes to one's own interests, the territorial sovereignty of another country matters little, especially when it used to be a semi-colonial soviet possession. Learning the law-based rules of European cooperation is the way to success in this matter, but so far it seems easier to appeal to the understanding of other former fellow superpowers like France or Britain. It is a good guess, that these ways will not bear any fruit, except some rhetorical diplomatic favours. After all, Lithuania will not be the only smaller EU member state which has tasted the appetite of larger neighbours and in their quest for a law-based solution they have the support of the European Commission, which will oppose any shady power deals.
Thus, size does matter, but in the EU it is well balanced with the interests of smaller member state. This has been beneficial both for Europe as well as for the cooperation atmosphere which is dominant in the corridors of the EU institutions in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg. For the other big global players this is an interesting aspect of governance to explore and understand. Because eventually, bridging this gap of understanding between Europe and its big neighbours might become one of the most challenging global issues for the 21st century. Mutual respect, partnership and a will to compromise for the sake of finding a workable solution are principles which might refresh EU-Russia relations considerably.